Pictured from left, Etowah County Commission President Jamie Grant, Walnut Grove Councilman Randall Green, Phillip and Sally McCormick, Dennis Burton, Etowah County Commissioner Tim Ramsey and Altoona Mayor Rick Nash show their appreciation for Burton after his donation of land for a storm shelter.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
A stalwart pillar of Etowah County was honored Wednesday, Jan. 27 for his commitment to his community. Elected officials and friends alike gathered together to recognize Dennis Burton for his contribution to the county.
“It makes me feel good to do it, like I’m doing something for the community,” said Burton. “I’m at the point where I don’t need anything, and I don’t want anything. I just want happiness.”
Adjacent to New Union Aurora Volunteer Fire Department Station 2 in Boaz rests a storm shelter, a beacon of refuge for families in the surrounding area seeking safety during pernicious times. The storm shelter was made possible by Burton, who donated the land where the shelter resides. Following the presentation, a marker now stands in between the station and the shelter commending Burton for his efforts.
“Dennis [Burton] has been my friend for years,” said Altoona Mayor Rick Nash, who attended the event. “Dennis has always been community oriented. He’s just a good man. If anybody really needs anything, they can go to Dennis. I appreciate him in Altoona, but I appreciate him out here too. We’re all a big neighborhood. We help each other – the fire departments and the police departments. I appreciate him for doing this. It means a lot to these folks.”
Etowah County District 4 Commissioner Tim Ramsey organized the event, inspired to dedicate something to a man who dedicates his life to his community. Ramsey noted that there are so many deserving individuals who commit themselves to service, but never receive recognition for their contributions, and he wanted to change that cycle for Burton. Although Ramsey has only known Burton a short while, the impression Burton left on Ramsey was grand.
“He’s a staple of the community and has been forever,” said Ramsey. “He’s been so generous in giving things we needed for the community, donating property for the fire station, then coming back later and giving more property for the storm shelter. He’s a good gentleman that has helped the community for a long time, and I wanted something there that lasted and said, ‘This is what happened. This is where it came from.’ It’s the least we can do for somebody who has done so much for the community.”
Ramsey reached out to fellow Etowah County Commissioner Jamie Grant, who represents District 3. Although the storm shelter rests 300 yards from the beginning of Grant’s district and the end of Ramsey’s, Grant’s connection to Burton surpasses coordinates on a map.
Grant cannot recall a time in his life when he did not know Burton. He remembers visiting Burton’s Altoona store before peewee football practice to grab a candy bar and a drink and considers Burton a fixture of the community. When Grant decided to retire, he crossed paths with Burton once more, and soon the six-year-old who wandered Burton’s store became the new owner of Lil’ Burtons, courtesy of his childhood icon.
“He gives people opportunities,” said Grant. “He does that for people. He has been fantastic to me. Where he could have sold the store to anybody and made tons of money, he sold it to somebody he’s known forever to give me that chance.”
While Burton’s generosity has touched the lives of so many in Etowah County, his name is perhaps most associated with the grocery stores that once populated the area and still reside throughout. Burton spent 15 years at Goodyear before reopening his father’s grocery store in the late 1950s. That moment sparked a series of stores that would follow years later, including a partnership with Burton’s brother Harold, and locations in Ashville, Moody, Springville, Southside and Boaz.
“I was in the grocery business 50 years,” said Burton. “I learned to manage and take care of your money. I enjoyed the meat market more than anything. We had a good reputation.”
Age is but a number to Mr. Burton, who even in his eighties, begins his morning before the clock strikes 5 a.m. Burton rises and performs hundreds of sit-ups and toe-touches, then walks three to four miles – all before breakfast.
“He does his work and his routine,” said Grant. “He loves his family – he’s close to his kids and grandkids. He is a true family man. When you work for him, he demands perfection. His clothes are a certain way; he likes his store a certain way. Those types of people are successful people. He’s just a giving individual and a humble individual. He’s stayed the same throughout all these years.”
Kindness, diligence and service prove lifelong themes throughout Burton’s years in Etowah County. His unwavering work ethic remains an inspiration from each venture to the next, while his benevolent and humble nature resounds as a representation of his continual desire to help others before himself. From providing families with quality groceries for decades to recognizing a need in his community and fulfilling that lack, to operating a farm and developing a construction business, to granting individuals the opportunity for success, Burton’s gentle hands have planted fruitful seeds of wisdom and hope for all who cross his path. The storm shelter emerges as one example of a man who commits his life to upholding righteousness and fostering positivity wherever he walks, and encourages others to join him along the way.
“You need to live a good clean life, and try to enjoy every day that you live,” said Burton. “Thank God for each day that you live.”